Origami Fortune Tellers

Text: A folk object (product and/or process) that you learned to make in elementary school

 – Origami fortune tellers

Informant: RM

Ethnicity: Indian

Primary Language: English

Age: 20

Residence: Cupertino


The informant says that when she was in elementary school, she learned how to make origami fortune tellers from her friends (and in turn taught the process to others). These fortune tellers were often used in school to predict outcomes for a variety of things, including forecasts for the day, successfully talking to a crush, and the courses of friendships.


The widespread creation of origami fortune tellers by elementary schoolers reflects a convergence of cultural and social factors. Since the craft of origami originated in Japan and spread to China, it is worth noting that the informant went to a primarily Asian elementary school which, in turn, may have had an influence on their popularity. As a result, spreading the craft of making fortune tellers is a sort of cultural transmission, passing along preexisting folklore from a larger cultural group along to a new one consisting of children in the same age range. It can also be interpreted as a reflection of children’s desire to seize control of their lives in some way, as children do not have the same independence and agency as an adult; this can still resonate with adults who remember the craft, serving as a source of nostalgia (and many of them still take it up). Furthermore, the fortune tellers provide an avenue for creativity and imagination to shine through social interactions.